Alleluia, Christ is risen! He is risen indeed, alleluia!
Gnade sei mit euch und FRIEDE von unserem Herrn Jesus Christus.
Grace be with you and PEACE from our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
This past week, I have talked to some of you, to some friends, and also to some colleagues. One subject that came up again and again was: so, how was Easter for you, Easter in the era of COVID-19? And I heard over and over again: it felt strange. Not quite real. Yes, I believe in the resurrection, I believe in new life, but somehow I couldn’t quite get into the Easter spirit this year. There is just too much going on, the news about people succumbing to COVID-19, about people not knowing how to make ends meet during these times, our longing for physical connection with people we love, our longing to get out and not worry about catching something. This Easter somehow feels muted.
Today’s gospel story starts out in a similar mood. It starts on the day of Christ’s resurrection. To be more specific, it is evening. In the morning, the disciples heard the good news through the women, through Mary Magdalene: he is risen! And yet the disciples are hiding away because of fear of the Jews, we hear, that is the Jewish authorities who condemned Jesus. Imagine what they’ve been through: they witnessed the trial, torture, death and burial of their master and friend. And then Mary Magdalene came to them, I have seen him, he is risen! Talk about confusion and a roller coaster of emotions! The disciples have heard the amazing news, the good news of Jesus’ resurrection, and yet: something keeps them from embracing and fully believing this news. And so they are hiding away, lost in the whirlwind of events. They self-isolate – but at least they have each other.
But locked doors and the walls of fear can’t keep the risen Christ away. They can’t keep the risen Christ from stepping right into their midst, very physically. And he does three things, and two of them are very physical: he speaks, he shows his wounds, and he breathes on the disciples. And his very first words? “Shalom – Peace be with you.” These are the first words Jesus speaks to his disciples after the resurrection, and what powerful and beautiful words they are: Shalom, may you be whole again and at peace with God, with each other, and with yourself. With the risen Christ, this kind of shalom, this kind of peace is restored to the frightened and traumatized disciples. Shalom.
At the same time, Jesus shows his wounds – and I will get back to that in just a moment – and Jesus breathes on them. With everything that is going on right now, we probably feel quite uncomfortable about the breathing part, but I think we can get what is happening here: just as God breathed the first breath, the first Spirit, into Adam at creation and gave life to humanity, Jesus is re-animating the disciples, giving them spirit, giving them life – new life. This is a new beginning, and God’s shalom, God’s peace, cannot be separated from God’s breath and this newness of life.
Now it’s interesting that this re-animation doesn’t bring all of the disciples’ spirits right back. We usually focus on the proverbial doubting Thomas when we read this gospel. But what I find fascinating is that Thomas is not there, on that night of the resurrection. Who knows where he is, but he is not part of that first coming of Christ among the disciples. He is not part of the peace Jesus shares, he doesn’t receive the breath, the spirit, the new life.
But just read the story carefully: there are actually two parts to the story we have in today’s gospel: when we hear about the Thomas incident, it’s a full week after the resurrection, and again, the disciples are hiding away, and the doors are locked. Did you catch this? They are still hiding away, even though Jesus already appeared to them and shared God’s breath and shalom with them. Christ’s appearance among them leads to a surprisingly muted reaction. They don’t ACT as if they’d received the Spirit and new life. No wonder Thomas has his doubts about that whole resurrection business.
Jesus is coming again, a week after the resurrection, and I believe it’s not just for Thomas’ benefit, but for the benefit of all the disciples. Jesus has to share the peace again. And: Jesus again shows his wounds, as he already did the first time around. And by sharing his wounds, Jesus asserts his vulnerability. Jesus doesn’t pretend it’s all glory and victory and endless bliss but that he is painfully aware of the things that his disciples go through – the things that we go through. Jesus refuses to pretend that nothing has happened. No, his suffering and death remain a reality, even through and after the resurrection.
And by showing his wounds, Jesus also acknowledges the hurt and grief Thomas and the others have been through. The hurt which, so often, makes us guarded and fearful and doubtful. Our wounds are part of who we are. God doesn’t want to cover them up. Jesus shows his sympathy, which literally means ‘suffering with’, when he offers his wounds to be seen and touched. And it is in this sense, that God offers us peace. It’s not that, all of a sudden, everything is okay. But we can move on and have new life, even though we are hurt and bear our wounds and scars. There is life after hurt. There is life after trauma. It most likely will be a different life, but life it is nonetheless.
The risen Christ is reaching out his wounded hands to us today. Shalom. Peace be with you. I know what you are going through. There is a tomorrow on the other side. There is life after an experience like the one we as the world community go through right now.
And, like in the case of the disciples, it most likely will be new life, a different life. How can things be just the same old, same old after all we are experiencing now? So many things are being revealed through the crisis right now: the good and the bad.
How will that life be different? We may have certain ideas, maybe certain hopes, but we can’t tell for sure. But whatever it is, we have a part in it. We help shape this new life. Not only does Christ breathe the Holy Spirit onto the first disciples and into them, re-animating them, but he also gives them direction how to live their new life: As the Father has sent me, so I send you. It’s your task to bring healing and light to the world.
The risen Christ breathes the Spirit onto and into us: Peace be with you. May you be made whole again. But: as we breathe in this Spirit, we also breathe it out. In this way, God’s precious Spirit and God’s shalom flow into the world. In this way, God’s Spirit is with us, now and forever.
Picture by Brian Patrick Tagalog on unsplash.com
This post is also available in: German